medical marijuana

Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in 2010. Six years later, they rejected a measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana. The issue is back before voters on Nov. 3.

This Election Day, voters may make it legal to purchase recreational marijuana in Arizona—which could mean big business for dispensaries in Glendale and beyond.

According to Marijuana Business Daily, “California took in a record $208 million in excise, sales and cultivation taxes from the cannabis industry in the second quarter of 2020.” 

Ten other states have legalized recreational marijuana. Colorado, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon also have estimated marijuana sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Arizona joins three others—Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota—with the question on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Four years after Arizona voters rejected legalizing recreational marijuana, the issue is back, appearing on November’s ballot as Proposition 207. 

In addition to an excise tax, the proposition would tax recreational marijuana under the general sales tax.

The Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, would legally allow people 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, although smoking it in public places and open spaces would be prohibited. Arizonans would be allowed to grow up to six plants in their personal residences, and anyone arrested for, charged with or convicted of less serious marijuana-related offenses would be allowed to petition to have their criminal records expunged beginning July 21, 2021. Those offenses include possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana or less and possessing paraphernalia used to smoke marijuana.

“We took the Smoke-Free Arizona Act that was passed in 2007 and used that as a model” for the public smoking aspect, said Chad Campbell, a former Democratic state representative who’s chairman of Smart and Safe Arizona. “We really ended public smoking, (which) hasn’t been done in any other state.”

However, Lisa James, chairwoman of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, and other critics contend the proposition would not completely ban marijuana usage in public.

“While the proposition says it would ban smoking in public places, it doesn’t say anything about consuming (THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana) via vaping or edibles in public,” she said.

Proposition 207 also would put the Arizona Department of Health Services in charge of developing regulations for businesses producing and selling marijuana.

All sales would face a 16% surtax, which would fund community colleges, public safety, public health programs and infrastructure.

Smart and Safe Arizona, the group promoting the proposition, raised $3.48 million. Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, the main opposition campaign, collected $142,065.

Campbell said the license regulations in the bill would increase the number of licenses available in tandem with population growth. In addition, a number of licenses would be set aside for underserved communities.

Jared Keenan, president-elect of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which supports Proposition 207, agreed with Campbell that legalizing marijuana will not lead to pandemonium with increased usage. The notion that “society is falling apart (and) cities are burning” where marijuana is legal is false, he said.

Some opponents also contend the proposition’s increased penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana are insufficient, based on studies showing increased cases of impaired driving in states where marijuana use is legal.

Arizona voters approved the use of marijuana for medical reasons in 2010, and the first dispensaries opened in 2012.

Dr. Ed Gogek, a psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse and the author of “Marijuana Debunked,” said Proposition 207 will allow the for-profit marijuana industry to encourage teenage usage, much as tobacco companies did decades ago.

“What turns a profit for these companies is appealing to teenagers, even if they have to say they’re not trying to do that,” Gogek said. “We know that in states that have legalized recreational use that they have the highest teenage use in the country.”

Dr. John Sutro, who assesses patients at Scottsdale Medical Marijuana Certification Center, said Arizona residents would pay more if they bypass the state’s medical marijuana option and purchase directly from recreational dispensaries.

Recreational marijuana would be taxed at 16% in addition to state and local taxes of about 9%, which equals 25%, and the rate could increase with demand, he said.

A medical card obtained through a doctor is valid for two years and costs $150.

Medical marijuana sales are subject to state and city taxes.